The album was Erasure’s “Pop! — The First 20 Hits,” a compilation that came out in the fall of 1992, about a month after I’d come out at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. The song was “Chains of Love,” which had come out in April of 1988, near the end of my freshman year of high school. The lyrics began:
“How can I explain when there are few words I can choose?
How can I explain when words get broken?”
And the second verse asked,
“Do you remember once upon a time,
when there were open doors
an invitation to the world?
We were falling in and out with lovers,
looking out for others,
our sisters and our brothers.*
Come to me, cover me, hold me.
Together we’ll break these chains of love.
Don’t give up, don’t give up now.
Together with me, my babe,
we’ll break the chains of love.”
(*apologies for the lamentable 80s gender binary.)
It was a song written to be played in queer spaces with a melody that dared you not to dance, and it was a song about life before the HIV/AIDS pandemic had put a generation of lovers into an early grave. To be honest, I didn’t remember that idealized “once upon a time,” because I’d was ten years old when AIDS first hit the public’s consciousness and I’ve never known what it means to be gay apart from the reality of HIV/AIDS. But coming out and becoming part of the community meant learning the stories and the strategies of resistance that those who’d gone before me passed down in poems and novels and movies and dance clubs from friends and lovers and strangers.
In this moment, when we are asked to consider what it means to celebrate Pride in the midst of another global pandemic and a worldwide uprising in response to the ceaseless racist violence of life in a police state, I am feeling a sense of raw urgency that takes me back to the very first weeks and months after I came out. Once again we are being called to find our place in a movement that started long before any of us arrived on the scene. Once again we are indebted to the elders who survived generations of the worst of this world’s violence so that we could stand at the precipice of the future and fight for something better and more beautiful.